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Umm Kulthum

Artistic Agency and the Shaping of an Arab Legend, 1967-2007

Laura Lohman

Publication Year: 2010

In 1967 Egypt and the Arab world suffered a devastating defeat by Israel in the Six-Day War. Though long past the age at which most singers would have retired, the sexagenarian Egyptian singer Umm Kulth m launched a multifaceted response to the defeat that not only sustained her career, but also expanded her international fame and shaped her legacy. By examining biographies, dramas, monuments, radio programming practices, and recent recordings, Laura Lohman delves into Umm Kulth m's role in fashioning her image and the conflicting ways that her image and music have been interpreted since her death in 1975.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-ix

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pp. x-xi

The research for this book was made possible by the generous financial support of several organizations. The National Endowment for the Humanities funded my research in Egypt through a fellowship at the American Research Center in Egypt. A Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship from the...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xii

In transliterating Arabic, I have generally followed the system adopted by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress. I represent one Arabic consonant differently. Instead of using the symbol “z.” to represent the consonant...


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pp. xiii

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pp. 1-16

Just days before the fall of Ṣaddām Ḥussayn’s statue during the Iraq war of 2003, cassettes of a song about Baghdad suddenly sold out in Cairo. Not surprising, perhaps, for a recent hit like Sha͑bān ‘Abd al-Raḥīm’s al-Ḍarb x al-‘Irāq” (Attack on Iraq), but unusual for a song created nearly five...

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1. “A New Umm Kulthūm”

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pp. 17-37

To understand the particular reverence that Umm Kulthūm has been accorded in the decades after her death, one must first explore the details and context of her public life in 1967. The landmark event of that year was the defeat of Egypt—along with Syria and Jordan—in the Six-Day War, a rapid defeat that precipitated a lasting...

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2. For Country or Self ?

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pp. 38-62

Following her concert in al-Manṣūrah in February 1968, Umm Kulthūm began a remarkable series of trips that would extend her fundraising campaign across the Arab world during the remainder of the year. She gave concerts in venues from Morocco to Kuwait and generated both financial and moral support for Egypt. Praised abroad and at home...

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3. Sustaining a Career, Shaping a Legacy

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pp. 63-89

For all that was accomplished, Umm Kulthūm’s whirlwind tour of the Arab world in 1968 left her audiences in Egypt feeling neglected. For eighteen months, she had all but abandoned her schedule of monthly Cairo concerts that were broadcast live throughout the country (͑Iṣmat 1968a).1 Her physical absence was compounded when...

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4. From Artist to Legend

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pp. 90-111

In early 1975, Umm Kulthūm suffered kidney failure, which prompted a cerebral hemorrhage and the failure of other internal organs. Front pages of the region’s newspapers detailed the progression of her illness, and after she died on February 3, biographical sketches and panegyrics...

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5. Mother of Egypt or Erotic Partner?

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pp. 112-136

The many nicknames that Umm Kulthūm acquired during her career give insight into her value for Egyptian and Arab listeners. Monikers like “Qithārat al-͑Arab” (Lyre of the Arabs), “Muwaḥḥidat al-͑Arab” (Uniter of the Arabs), and “Fannānat al-Sha͑b” (Artist of the People) leave no doubt as to her success in establishing a regional presence...

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6. An Evolving Heritage

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pp. 137-166

Umm Kulthūm’s glowing treatment in many biographical and dramatic ac-counts has obscured how old-fashioned her music and image seemed to some by the end of her career. In 1970, one contributor to the Lebanese newspaper al-Nahār attacked her, warning that “she must not sing...

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pp. 167-171

When recounting Umm Kulthūm’s life, authors have often exaggerated the break in her public appearances after the June War and even claimed that she retired from singing. In doing so, they sought to enhance the value of her postwar efforts and emphasize the depth of her...


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pp. 173-184


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pp. 185-220


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pp. 221-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780819570734
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819570710

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Music Culture